Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Other Kevin Smith

Kevin Stofer Smith began his career in Hollywood one month after graduating high school.  He followed his older brother Albert to the now defunct Producer's Studio in 1976 where his first production job required him to shatter twenty large mirrors and sweep up the shards for a Boz Scaggs music video.  Thirty-eight years later, Kevin hopes any bad luck has been left behind him.

Kevin joined the commercial production company Paisley Productions in 1977. The Paisley gang included director David Farrow, producer Christine Kitch, executive producer Steve Brodie, Cinematographer and future Academy Award nominee Caleb Deschanel (father of Zooey & Emily), Music Video Director Kevin Kerslake (director of "Nirvana Live! Tonight! Sold Out!") and Ruth McCartney (of Macca Rock and Roll Legend and present day Digital Diva).  Paisley would be Kevin's production home for the next 12 years.  He worked his way from Stage Manager to PA to Production Coordinator to First Assistant Director.  In 1980, the Director's Guild opened their doors to commercial directors.  At age 21, Kevin became the second youngest person to obtain a 1st A.D. DGA Card.  (The youngest was 7-year old Justin Henry, the child actor from Kramer vs. Kramer, who was given a DGA card as a birthday present joke by Dustin Hoffman.)

Kevin traveled to more than 30 states and worked on hundreds of television commercials for Paisley with his mentor David Farrow.  Notable shoots included Hertz Rental Car with O.J. Simpson, Billy Carter Beer, the infamous Yugo Automobile and the popular "Don't Squeeze the Charmin" spots with Mr. Whipple.  Mr. Whipple, played by veteran actor Dick Wilson, was known for being a prankster on set.  During one Charmin shoot, Kevin watched as Mr. Whipple grabbed his chest and fell to the floor.  The crew laughed, believing this was another practical joke.  Turns out Wilson was having an actual heart attack.  Fortunately he survived to make many more awful commercials.

While working on a Ford commercial in Central California, Kevin was tasked with cueing thirty wild horses to run in the surf of Pismo Beach alongside a Ford Mustang convertible.  While setting up the master shot, the trainer, hearing a helicopter test cue of "Release the Horses," mistakenly released the animals prematurely.  The horses ran 3 miles up the beach and onto Highway 101 forcing police to shut down the freeway.  A dozen animals made it to the nearby town of Grover Beach where a local 12-year old girl began corralling horses and tethering them to parking meters.  Nobody was hurt and the next day's local headline read "Filming of Ford Loses Horsepower."

During a spot for Right Guard Deodorant, nobody knew the prop man was freebasing cocaine.  Just after lunch, Kevin heard a loud explosion.  The prop man had lit his crack pipe while labeling hero deodorant cans which caused the aerosol cans to explode.  The blast destroyed the prop truck and incinerated the entire stash of Right Guard hero product.  The prop man luckily escaped unhurt.

A commercial for Ford Trucks in the desert called for several pickup trucks to be dropped from an overhead cargo plane and parachute gently to earth. One of the parachutes did not open.  The 4,000-pound truck hit the ground at 200 miles an hour.  The impact left a massive crater and sandwiched the truck into a 4-inch metal pancake.

Kevin worked with many celebrities over the years.  He shot Princess Cruise commercials with Gavin "Captain Stubing" MacLeod, Lemon Pledge with Florence Henderson, Ford with Telly Savalas and Mazda commercials with James Garner.  On one Mazda shoot in Goat Rock Beach, California, Garner insisted on doing his own stunt driving.  Garner took a tight turn too fast and slid off a cliff.  The car flipped and rolled and came to rest upside down against a grip van.  Fifteen feet in either direction was a 500-foot drop to the Pacific Ocean below.  Garner claimed he was okay but was flown by helicopter to a Sebastopol hospital where he was given full body X-Rays.  Kevin and David Farrow looked on as the doctor recounted Garner's injuries.

"You've damaged your L2 and L3 vertebrae," the doctor said.  "No, no," Garner said.  "That was from Maverick."

"Well it looks like you have a crushed C3 cervical neck injury."  "Rockford Files, Season 2," Garner said.

"And your cracked left knee?"  "That was 1969, Support Your Local Sheriff," Garner replied.

Garner told Kevin, "Son, when you fall off your horse, you have to get back on it."  Two hours later Garner and the crew were back on set to grab the ultimate helicopter sunset shot.

Kevin's favorite actor to work with was Jonathan Winters.  After wrapping a Cheetos commercial, Kevin joined Winters in the actor's motorhome where they smoked weed together.  Winters shared a bit of trivia about Cheetos. He told Kevin, "If you're ever stuck in a cave without a source of light, all you need is a pack of matches and a bag of Cheetos."  Winters proceeded to light a Cheetos puff and the trailer was illuminated with an astonishingly strong flame.

After Paisley closed their doors in 1989, Kevin continued making commercials as a First AD and Producer.  He also directed music videos and HDTV promos for Two And a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens. Kevin also began producing spots for Norms Restaurants, something he does every fall with Black Lab Productions.  In the 90's, Kevin bolstered a relationship with Cinematographer and Executive Producer Bob Eberlein, founder of the production company Image Streams. Along with Production Supervisor Jan Skorstad, Image Streams began producing live action sequences and test shoots for major studio productions. Some of Image Streams recent VFX and Green Screen credits include the films Gravity, Gatsby, I Am Legend and the new Tom Cruise film Edge Of Tomorrow.  Kevin and Eberlein also produced the Oscar Opening for the 2008 Academy Awards.

In his spare time, Kevin considers himself one of the world's greatest Rolling Stones fans.  He has attended somewhere north of 75 Stones concerts in his life (he lost count long ago).  In 1999, he flew to London to see the Stones play at Wembley Stadium.  His first show was a 1973 "Benefit for Nicaragua" at the Los Angeles Forum.  His most recent show was this past year in San Jose.

I worked with Kevin in the early 90's.  He was hired to produce and direct a television show about the legendary Route 66 for Sat1 German Television.  The Los Angeles shoot lasted several days culminating in a celebratory lunch in Malibu.  As the German producer Hans prepared to pay the tab, he discovered his wallet was missing.  The wallet contained $25,000 cash needed to pay the crew and the remaining production expenses.  Hans fell into a panic at which point Kevin took over.  We all hopped into a production van with Kevin at the wheel.  We retraced our steps from the day and found ourselves stuck in a Santa Monica Freeway traffic jam.

It had been raining and Hans suddenly remembered leaning out the passenger side window to snap a photo of a rainbow.  He theorized that's when the wallet must have fallen out of his back pocket.  Kevin weaved through traffic and spotted a thick brown wallet in the second lane.  He stopped the van, ran onto the freeway, dodged passing cars, retrieved the wallet and gave it to the grateful producer.  All the money was still there.  Kevin shrugged off the "needle in a haystack" miracle as just another day in the world of Film and TV.  (5" x 7", black ink print)